Thursday, 22 September 2016

Shorne Woods 5 2016

Shorne Woods Country Park is located just off the A2 near Gravesend in Kent. It was formerly part of the Cobham Hall Estate, but the land was used for clay extraction between the 1930s and 1970s. In 1987 the 288 acre site came under undership of Kent County Council, who subsequently turned it into a country park.

The Shorne Woods 5 was put on in September 2016 as a fundraiser with all money going back into conservation in Kent's country parks. I registered online in advance and paid the £15 entry fee (£12.50 plus £2.50 VAT). The entry fee also included parking in the on-site car park which would usually cost £3 at the weekend.

pre-race [photos: 7t]

As I understand it, there have been two previous Shorne Woods 5 mile races. However this incarnation of the event was organised by a different set of people and using a different course. So moving onto the day, the race numbers were collected on-the-day from the kiosk next to the car park. This process would have worked better if on-the-day registrants had a separate queue - it would have allowed the pre-registered people to collect their numbers a little more swiftly.

There are two sets of toilets available for use in Shorne Woods; the first are at the visitor centre / cafe building and the second are in the kiosk building. Unfortunately the toilets at the cafe stopped working shortly before the start of the race so everyone had to use the smaller facilities at the kiosk, which to be fair wasn't too bad because this was a low-key race with a modest number of runners.

the start [photo: dawn granger]

The start and finish of the race was just a few minutes from the car park, near the children's play area and the lake. A short briefing took place at 9.30am and it was then time to get started. At first the course took in some of the hard-packed easy access paths that are used for Shorne Woods parkrun (to date I've visited the parkrun twice, you can read those posts here and here).

Once this opening section was complete the runners were sent out into the woods themselves, which is one of the reasons I wanted to run this race. I've run and cycled through Shorne Woods in the past and it is a great place to get in some off-road action. It's also a great place to get the legs used to running off-road again in advance of the cross-country season.

about a kilometre from the end [photo: dawn granger]

It's going to be impossible to describe each and every detail of the course, but we were mostly running on dirt paths which were soft but not muddy as it had been fairly dry in the weeks leading up to the race. They twisted and turned all over the woods and featured plenty of climbs and descents, uneven terrain and tree roots. I had a few hairy moments were I almost lost my footing on uneven ground, but that's what trail races are all about.

The route itself had been marked out very well with arrows and plenty of taping, plus there were just about the right amount of marshals dotted around. There was also a fantastic photographer capturing the event and she has kindly allowed me to use some of her photos on the blog, so a big thanks to Dawn Granger for that.

a few snaps on the course [photos: 7t]

As for my race, I started towards the front of the field and mingled into the pack until it started to naturally thin out. A couple of faster runners shot off way into the distance and I didn't see them again until the end. After about a mile I moved up into third position and spent the next few miles thoroughly enjoying everything that the woods threw at me.

At just over halfway through I could sense that someone was gaining on me, but I kept pushing and managed to stay a few steps in front. Within the last mile I started to develop a stitch which I could feel impacting on my pace. On a hill with about 400 metres left to go I finally could not hold on any longer and slipped back into fourth position.

just a couple of hundred metres to go [photo: dawn granger]

At the time I hadn't realised exactly how close we were to the end and I had hoped I might have enough time to fight to regain the place once we were back on flat ground, but as I turned the corner at the top of the hill I recognised the lake and knew that we were already at the finish. It was a good battle but it's never nice to be on the losing side!

The official results have been published online and I finished in 4th place overall in a time of 36.18. My GPS file of the course is on Strava and can be found via the following link: Shorne Woods 5 2016

a bit blurry, but it'll do [photo: 7t]

What can I say about the race? The course was brilliant and it was really well marked out so credit must go to the organisers (largely made up of the core team from Shorne Woods parkrun) for getting this spot on. Given that this race had no chip timing, no post-race freebies (there was a post-race massage tent but I'm not sure if this was free) and a fairly standard generic finishers' medal I'd say that it was a tad overpriced.

I know that the money is going to a good place but I think runners would generally expect chip timing and at least a banana and a bottle of water at the end for £15. Plus it'd be nice to have the results recorded online in a place that felt a bit more permanent than the uploaded spreadsheet document. I'm sure the details will be looked at and if the race returns in 2017 I'd like to be on the start line again because it really is a fantastic race through the woods.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Hastings parkrun

I've been reading about the seaside town of Hastings, East Sussex, and its history is so rich and varied that I really wasn't sure where to start with this blog post. Hastings is of course best known for one of the most famous battles in English history. However the first mention of the town is from the 8th century when 'Hastingas' meaning 'the constituency/followers of H├Žsta' is mentioned.

Through the years the town has been linked with smuggling and you can visit the caves that were used. The town was, for centuries, a very important fishing port - in fact Hastings still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in Europe. Fossils, including dinosaur bones and footprints are regularly found at the far eastern end of the town. Hastings Castle was Britain's first-ever Norman Castle and can also be visited. 


There's tonnes more to learn about and do in Hastings, but this blog is about running so I'll move onto that now. We had come down to St. Leonards, which is an area to the west of central Hastings to take part in the 74th running of Hastings parkrun. The event had its inaugural event on 18 April 2015 and has been attracting around 150 runners per week (143.7 average at the time of my visit).

The run takes place along the seafront and upon arrival we parked on Sea Road in one of the free parking spaces right next to the start/finish area, which is opposite Grosvenor Gardens (or West Marina Gardens according to the signage onsite). I was expecting these spaces to be fairly empty when we arrived, but being free-of-charge obviously makes them popular and there were only a couple of spaces remaining. There are other side roads close-by that allow free parking, but if they are also all full then there is always the option of the pay-and-display car park which is located about 800 metres to the east.

pre-run briefing and meeting another tourist

If travelling by train it is best to head for West St. Leonards station which is the closest to the run [500m]. St. Leonards Warrior Square is the next closest [2km], and finally there is Hastings station [3.5km]. Anyone travelling by bicycle would probably find the most convenient place to secure their bike is to the railings on the promenade, but there are a few official cycle racks dotted around along the prom.

There are public toilets available for use at the eastern end of Grosvenor Gardens / West Marina Gardens but the opening times vary depending on time of the year. From 1 April to 16 October they open at 7am, but from 17 October to 31 March their opening time is set at 9am which means that it's worth planning a pit-stop elsewhere if you're visiting over the winter.

the parkrun stone feeling rather at home i imagine

The first-timers briefing takes place at about 8.45am and this is followed by the full briefing just before 9am. They are held at the shelter opposite the most westerly part of Grosvenor Gardens / West Marina Gardens. I was a little disappointed to hear so many runners chatting during the run briefing - it happens at quite a lot of venues and I don't understand how they don't realise how disrespectful they are being to the run director and the other runners.

The run itself starts right next to the shelter and I couldn't write this blog without giving a special mention to the Hastings parkrun start sign which in infamous for the added bits of pen-written text. At first 'parkrun' was written in as 'Park Run', but this has now been covered with some paper and the corrected 'parkrun' has been added. I love it when venues have something quirky to get excited about.

and it begins

The course is a 100% tarmac/concrete out-and-back route along the seafront promenade. It is flat apart from the ramps that transfer the runners between the upper and lower decks of the prom and it's absolutely fine for a spot of buggy running. I wore my New Balance Zante V2 road shoes for this run and there is no way you'd ever need anything else other than standard road shoes here.

After heading off from the start point with the sea on their right, the runners head east along the promenade. The upper path of the promenade features a cycling path which seems to be well used so it is vital that attention is paid to cyclists approaching in both directions and to other users of the walkway. At almost the exact point the course reaches the first kilometre point, the runners head down a ramp and onto the lower promenade.

lower path and bottle alley

Eventually the course passes through the approx-700-metre-long Bottle Alley, which is the covered section of the lower promenade (gps devices may become confused in here). The back wall of this alley is made of 320 concrete slabs decorated with 15 tonnes of broken glass bottle segments hence the name 'Bottle Alley'. Upon exiting the alley there is a short, sharp slope back up to the upper level of the promenade.

The runners head past Hastings Pier, which has had a troubled time in recent history. It received major storm damage in 1990, then had a series of partial closures resulting in a full closure in 2008. In 2010 a fire destroyed 95% of its superstructure, but somehow despite all its woes it has been reconstructed and re-opened to the public in April 2016.

halfway and the way back on the upper level

The 2.5km turnaround point is located about 200 metres after the pier outside The Source Park, which is an underground skatepark built in an old victorian turkish bath building - It opened to the public in February 2016 and I wish I had realised what it was when I was there because I would have loved to have popped in for a nose around. A marshal is posted here and gives out halfway times to the runners as they run around the turnaround cone. The runners stay on the upper promenade for the return leg and at around 3.3km the runners pass Warrior Square which features a statue of Queen Victoria which was erected in 1902.

Further on the route passes the grade II listed art deco building that is Marine Court. The building, and specifically the eastern end was designed to imitate the curved bridge of the Cunard White-Star Line (RMS Queen Mary) ocean liner. The runners then run past the Azur restaurant and down a little ramp which leads into the final kilometre of the run back along the opening stretch, but in the opposite direction until reaching the finish line [event 74 results here]. You can see my GPS trace of the course here on Strava, but the line of the course isn't 100% accurate. A certain part of this was caused by the undercover section.

the way back past marine court and into the last kilometre

Being a seafront course it is quite exposed to the weather. I ran here at the end of the summer so the temperature was still ok, but there was quite a strong wind blowing. This was fine on the 'out' leg where we had a tailwind, but the headwind on the return leg was really hard work and that final kilometre was probably the most painful section of a flat 5km run I have ever done; I was making so many involuntary sounds and I had a pain inside my body that was so intense that I could still feel it 15 minutes after the run had finished.

It's worth noting that the Sussex coastline suffers from something called Longshore Drift which is the movement of beach materials along the coastline. In Hastings this can result in the lower promenade becoming covered in shingle. When this happens the parkrun has a backup route which stays on the upper promenade at all times.


After the run the team head across the road to the Bo Peep pub which opens early to accommodate the parkrunners. We didn't manage to make it to the pub as we had decided to hang out on the beach playing chicken with the incoming tide. Once our feet were thoroughly soaked through we got changed and then had our packed lunch on the grass over in Grosvenor Gardens / West Marina Gardens (I still don't know what the correct name is) which was very pleasant.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Sevenoaks 7 2016

The Sevenoaks 7 (also known as the 7oaks7) is a seven mile race through Knole Park, the stunning deer park that surrounds Knole House in Sevenoaks, Kent. It is hosted by Sevenoaks Athletics Club and this year was the 23rd edition. It took place on the August bank holiday Monday. It's not the first time I have raced in Knole Park, in fact my first ever 10k race was run here and I returned to that race a few years later to see how much I had improved. However it was the first time I had run this particular race.

sevenoaks 7 / knole [photos: 7t]

The race HQ was at Sevenoaks Rugby Club which is about a 10 minute walk from the start-finish area of the race. I entered this race on-the-day and my lack of planning meant I had to pay a £15 entry fee. Had I been more organised and entered in advance I would have paid the very reasonable £11 affiliated runners fee. Unaffiliated runners would have paid £13 in advance.

pre-race [photos: m white / 7t]

For early arrivals parking was available at the rugby club. However the car park here isn't big enough for all entrants so extra parking was available free-of-charge at the near-by leisure centre. Toilets were available for use inside the rugby club clubhouse as were refreshments including tea, coffee and cake. I bumped into quite a few people that I know from the fantastic local running community and I always enjoy these pre-race chats.

start and course map from the official website [photos: m white / 7t]

The race itself started at 10.30am in the valley on the north-eastern side of Knole Park, not far from the footpath that leads directly from the rugby club into Knole. After quite an amusing welcome speech and briefing the runners were sent on their way. With the race taking place in the summer after a long period of dry weather, I decided to wear my light trail shoes, but road shoes would have done the job.

through the stunning deer park [photos: dani]

It was the first time I had entered a seven mile race. To be honest I think it's the only one I've ever heard of. The course was run over mixed terrain with a split of approximately 4.3 miles (7km) on grass or dirt paths and the remaining 2.6 miles (4.2km) on tarmac or gravel paths. The course can be described as very undulating or probably more accurately as 'hilly' and it's certainly a challenge.

marshals etc [photos: 7t / dani]

The course is made up of a 2km tail, followed by two clockwise loops and then the runners return to the start-finish via the tail. The first four kilometres are almost totally uphill, at which point there is a very steep downhill that takes runners down into the valley. This section is ever-so-slightly downhill and allows the runners to open up and get their pace up.

more terrain / feeling good at halfway [photos: 7t / dani]

The steepest section of the course comes at the end of the valley and is a 400 metre slog up to the end of the loop. It's generally around a 6% incline but my GPS data registered a couple of points where it hit double figures. After the second loop is complete it's time to head back to the start-finish, and the remaining two kilometres is largely, although not completely, downhill.

more park shots and me with 2km left to go [photos: 7t / dani]

At the end of the race, bespoke 'Sevenoaks 7' medals were given out by double gold winning Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes. The timing was done by chip which was embedded into the back of the race numbers and the official results were online later that day. I got around the course in a chip time of 51.40 (gun time 51.48) and was the 45th runner out of 257 to cross the line.

end [photos: 7t]

All in all this was a really enjoyable race and I am pretty certain that I put in the best performance I could possibly have done given my current fitness level. My kilometre splits were all over the place, but that's to be expected on a course like this. However my two 3.6km 'Sevenoaks 7' loops (see my Strava segments) were run with only an 8 second difference so I think I got my pacing spot on.

Time: 51.40 (gun time 51.48)
Position: 45 / 257
Full results: Swift Timing - Sevenoaks 7 2016

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Guildford parkrun

Guildford is a large town of Saxon origin in Surrey and has a population of around 140,000 people. The name is thought to derive from the words 'gold' and 'ford'. The 'gold' part is thought to be linked to the golden flowers or the golden coloured sand found near the ford. The town's location is down to the convenient existence of a gap in the north downs where the River Wey was forded - hence the 'ford' part.

In 1925 the local council bought a large area of land from Lord Onslow to prevent future development and to create a park that would 'remain for all time a lung of the town'. This area was formerly known as Paddocks but is now called Stoke Park. Since 10 March 2012 the park has been home to Guildford parkrun.


This venue has been on my to-do list ever since that inaugural event, but for some reason it has taken me over four years to get around to visiting. We ended up visiting during 'the nations biggest sports day' -#iamteamgb where various sports clubs put on special events to allow people to try different sports, and Guildford parkrun had an Olympian lined up to attend.

So I woke the family up nice and early and set off to run at event 222. We drove from Dartford and headed towards Guildford Spectrum which is a leisure complex that houses 4 swimming pools, an ice skating rink, tenpin bowling, a gym, an athletics stadium, football pitch, squash courts, kids soft play and a selection of cafes and restaurants. It also has a vast car park which has 1000 free parking spaces - it's a very short walk (under 5 minutes) to Stoke Park from here.

wide start line

The meeting spot for the parkrun is over in the north-east corner of the park, adjacent to the A25 and close to the rugby changing rooms and Burchatts Farm Barn. There are also toilets at the start (head around to the back of the building at the meeting area).

This venue attracts quite a large field of runners; the official average was 215 when I visited, but I would expect almost double that figure these days. Fortunately the start area is located on a grass playing field and allows a nice wide start line to be formed in between two parkrun flags.

near the beginning of each lap

This run takes place on a gently undulating two lap anti-clockwise course [my GPS data is here] which is run on a mixture of grass (2km) and people-cyclist shared use tarmac paths (3km). Although, as I understand it, the course is likely to be altered a little during the winter months.

After setting off on grass and running adjacent to the A25, the runners soon reach the first short tarmac section which passes the Wild Wood Adventure which we visited after the run. On their website it's described as 'treetop fun for kids who love adventure' and we visited this after then parkrun (my wife wrote about it on her blog).

shared-use path through the centre of the park

The 50 hectares of open space contain a playground, mini golf, tennis courts, skate park, model boating pond and a paddling pool. Sadly you don't see any of these from the course as you run around the park as they are all hidden away in the South-West corner of the park. There's also a swimming pool and lido and this is in the north-west corner.

Anyway the course progresses with the runners switching between grass and tarmac. After a long meandering section of tarmac through the centre of the park, the runners then enter a tree lined avenue which is where the uphill undulations seem to be most noticeable. This section ends at the easternmost point of the course where the runners transfer back onto grass and back towards the start-finish area.

the tree-lined section

As you run around the course there's not really a huge amount to take in. The bulk of the park is made up of sports pitches. In total these main open grass areas contain 7 football pitches (various sizes), 3 rugby pitches, 2 cricket pitches, 3 lacrosse pitches, and 6 rounders pitches. A few outcrops of trees exist and these have names such as Jubilee Wood and Peacock Wood.

The second lap is identical to the first and once complete, the runners simply enter the finish funnel back at the main meeting area where they can collect their finish token and then head off to be scanned.

the last part of the lap/course

As this is a very well attended event (378 on the day I visited) the finish funnel was quite long. At one point the queue of runners almost backed up over the finish line, but it looked like some quick-thinking marshals sorted it out before that happened.

With the run all done I had my barcode scanned just outside the adjacent building. Then, as we visited during the #iamteamgb special event, we got to meet and have a photo taken with Olympic sprint canoe athlete Rachel Cawthorn which was a nice way to round off a very pleasant morning.

post-run tokens / scanning and meeting rachel cawthorne

We ended up staying in Guildford for the whole day and eventually ended up hanging out at the Street Food Picnic which was brilliant.

For the record, Guildford parkrun was the last of the current set of Surrey parkruns for me to visit and you can see more information on all of the venues in the county on my Surrey parkrun Venues page.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Dartford Harriers Open Competition August 2016

A bit of a last minute decision to run this race, but in the absence of a track session so far this week I thought a 3000 metre race would serve as an interesting alternative and being the last of this year's Dartford Harriers AC open competitions on home-turf made it irresistible.

Entries to all track and field events were £5 and made on-the-night only. Before my race started I was able to catch a quick glimpse of some of the 100m races, which looked like fun but I was glad that I had chosen the longer race.

The weather conditions were interesting. No noticeable wind but the temperature had been up to 30 degrees that day and the heat was quite intense. Still, once we got going I coped fairly well with it apart from my mouth feeling a little dry towards the end.

dhac open competition timetable of events

With the 3000m start time set at 19:05 I headed around to the back straight of the track which is where the 7-and-half-lap race begins. There were 14 runners in the race and I had already come up with a plan to try to attempt to run as even a race as possible.

With that in mind, when the starter's pistol was fired I slotted in right at the back of the pack. I knew that it would be easy to get caught up in the faster pace that the majority of the field would be running at. I wanted to finish in under 12 minutes, which was too soft a target to aim for. I thought I'd be able to go faster but didn't want to use the go out (too) hard and (try to) hang on method.

pre-race [thanks to brian page and dani for the photos]

So my plan was to run the first couple of laps at around 12 minute pace 3k pace (1.36 per lap) and then gradually speed it up. Despite purposefully running at the back of the pack I completed the first lap in 1.28, which was a bit faster than planned but effort-wise it felt right.

I stayed right at the back for the first 700 metres but then felt that I was being held back so I moved up a couple of places where there was some clear air and in the process spent a little to long out in lane 2. The runners at the front of the field were way off in the distance by now, but I just focussed on my own race.

3000m [thanks to brian page and dani for the photos]

My pacing was going well and I certainly felt much better than at my only other previous 3000 metre track race where I really suffered during the latter stages. I felt much more in control of what was happening this time around and enjoyed it a lot more. I passed one more runner and was then on my own for the rest of the race, which I think ultimately may have lead to me relaxing a little too much and not pushing hard enough at the end.

I really hate running with my phone on my arm and I was going to leave it off, but if I had I wouldn't have had  my Strava GPS data to analyse after. I also ran with a Garmin but my current computer set-up isn't compatible with it so annoyingly I can't pull any data off of it (I'd like to change this soon).

full results from the power of 10 website

Before the race, I had looked up my previous 3000 metre track best time (11.26.8) and didn't think I'd get that close to it. However, I did manage to get close to it. In fact I was only .6 of a second away from equalling it, which in retrospect I probably could have done if I had had some competition over the last couple of laps. Or if I had just put more effort in during the last 200 metres, which I probably could have done if I had dug a little deeper.

My kilometre splits worked out to be 3.51 / 3.49 / 3.47.

Official result:
Time: 11.27.45
Position: 11 / 14
Full results: Power of 10 - Dartford Harriers Open Meeting 3000m

Instagram video: Slow-motion video 1 (lap 1, first corner)
Instagram video: Slow-motion video 2 (mid-race)

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